Why are refugee problems an issue for International Relations? Ned Cheston, u6054732

International Relations is the study of the international system, the dynamics of states and non state actors, international norms and institutions and increasingly relevant global interdependence. Within this field, the movement of refugees is a paramount issue.

Firstly, the issue of refugees must be considered an issue for IR as it has divided thinkers into two camps – realists and liberalists. Liberalism posits that “international organizations will strengthen peace” (Snyder, 2004) and that we should strive for power through collective action rather than in isolation. In the context of people movement, this is most clearly represented by the signing of the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees. This exemplified cosmopolitan principles that humanity should be inclusive and based on common morality. Organizations such as the UNHCR, by enshrining refugee rights and host resettlement camps, follow the doctrine of liberalism’s founding father – Immanuel Kant. He was the proponent of a cosmopolitan constitution, and states “the rights of men, as citizens of the world, shall be limited to conditions of universal hospitability” (Kant, 1795).

Within this context, the state adopts a realist stance. Wary of the dangers of immigration, aggrandized in an era of mobilized home grown terrorists, innovative warfare and increasing communication, states such as Australia and Indonesia have taken increased security measures. Realism is defined as “thinking upon wishing” (Carr, 2009). It holds the world as inherently anarchic, made up of self-interested states pitted in competition together. Essentially, “international politics is a struggle for power” (Morgenthau, 1948). Australia’s military style Operation Sovereign Borders involves boat turn-backs and offshore processing; whilst Indonesia has not signed the Convention so has no obligation to protect refugees. By exemplifying the debate, migration must be seen as a prominent IR area

Similarly, refugees change state relations. Australia has strained its relationship with Indonesia, which is seen as a “transit country” (AFR, 2015). Indonesia is under “an increased burden on social services and detention centres” (AFR, 2015) because of Australia’s low immigrant intake.

As a result of the Syrian Civil War, the make up of an entire region has changed because of people movement, thus making the issue important to the explanation of international politics. With 6.6 million displaced internally in Syria, Turkey has been forced to host 2 million refugees. Such a “failure to share the burden” (Brookings, 2015) shows that the “current humanitarian system is in some disorder” (Brookings, 2015) because of refugee issues. Refugee and humanitarian problems have also featured in UN debates and resolutions 2139 and 2165 during the Civil War

People movement through the Mediterranean is also a major aspect of modern day politics, and to know EU politics, one needs a grasp of refugee issues. With conflict driving refugees to economically stable Europe, its open borders under the Schengen Agreement, allow migrants to move freely through countries. According to the Economist “The EU’s ability to respond has been crippled” (Economist, 2015). Reports suggest that Hungary might “take isolation to a new level” (Economist, 2015) separating itself from others with a fence. Britain’s decision to debate its exit from the EU is similarly driven to some extent by people movement, and it has now closed its door to migrants.

Migration of all forms is an issue that’s inherent to international relations. It has divided ideologies, shaped state policy, altered relations between actors and led to new moral and ethical norms.

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Reference List

Bunch A & Barrett J, for The Australian Financial Review, “Refugee Crisis raises Indonesian ire”, Australian Financial Review, Jul 2015

Carr E.H, The Science of International Politics, 2009, pp10

Ferris, K, for The Brookings Institute, Not likely to go home, 2015

Hope, for the Telegraph, What will Brexit mean for migration, 2016

Kant, I, Perpetual Peace, 1795, pp137

Morgenthau, H, Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, pp25, 1948

Snyder, One World, Rival Theories, Foreign Policy, pp59, 2004

Author N/A, Hungary says a border fence with Romania may be next, The Economist, 2015